By Alex Daley, Casey Research, 19/9
Many of us fondly remember the announcement that rang with the turning of the millennium: “the first map of the human genome is complete!” It was a momentus achievement to be sure, even if it did take 13 years and cost about $3 billion. That’s because none of that mattered. It was going to rush in the age of the genetic medicine, and chronic disease would be a thing of the past. Even aging could be reversed.
So, what happened to all the promise? you may wonder. Well, it’s still there. But the problem is, science fiction authors and technology magazine scribes love to announce the arrival of the future as soon as the first scientific discoveries hint at its possibilities. That creates irrational expectations, because the progress of science – from an experimenter’s vision through to technology that can be widely distributed in a commercially viable way – is not instant. Of course, industry insiders know this, and analysts like Gartner even have entire reports dedicated to the “hype cycle” concept. But, that does not stop the average journalist from prognosticating about the possibilities.
Nevertheless, progress does march forward steadily, in the background. And, when it finally breaks through from the lab to the market… boom! You have an iPhone, a flat screen television, a multi-billion dollar blockbuster drug. The last few years have brought some incredible changes, for sure. But, the big promises – genetic medicine among them – might still seem unfilled to many. But, change can come in bunches, making certain years stand out as watersheds in technology. And, 2012 might surprise you as one of those.
Consider just a few of the most vaunted areas of technology to not quite fulfill their promise just yet:
A Future Without Paper (and Books and CDs and DVDs)
It’s long been the goal of many a business to go “paperless.” To scrap the mounds of pulp and ink that once lined hallways and storage rooms of offices around the world, we pushed the limit on storage, bandwidth and our ability to digitize nearly any piece of information.
Unfortunately, the consumer always trailed a little behind business in this regard. Our lives are replete with stuff. Things. Trinkets. Junk. There is likely some Neolithic impulse driving our desire to line the walls of our homes with the things we’ve collected from our travels, whether to Tibet or the local shopping mall.
And, for a great long time a large amount of that stuff has been media. Books. Records come CDs. Libraries of VHS or DVD movies. Recorded media has been a big business since the dawn of the mass manufacturing revolution.
Yet, at the turn of the millennium following the release of countless MP3 players we were told, like the paperless office, that the end of physical media was upon us,. The recording industry would never survive the era of free digital downloads. The first shots were fired in the late 1990s with the dawn of Napster and the mass swapping (cough, stealing) of songs across college and corporate campuses, and the Internet. Music was going digital and it was never going back.
But, by the end of 2001, following the release of Apple’s iPod, only 1% – a single lone digit – of the sales of recorded music was digital. For years, pundits decried the fall of the record, yet five plus years later the aisles of Walmart and Best Buy were still lined with CDs.
Fast forward to 2012 and the story is much different, however. For this year will be the first in history when 50% of all music media sales globally have gone digital. Music went digital when we all stopped watching the iPod and paying far more attention to “apps” and tablets and smartphones.
And, books are now following in the footsteps of music, which of course had a head start. Amazon’s Kindle e-Reader, the iPod-like dominator that truly launched the era of the digital book, didn’t surface for consumers until 2007 – a full six years after the iPod. But, don’t let that lull you into thinking it’ll be a while before books go digital. Thanks to the accelerating pace at which new technologies are being adopted once released, the Kindle and the e-book have caught up mighty quickly.
In January 2012, a full 31% of all books other than academic textbooks sold in the US were sold in digital form. That’s all adult fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. And that was before people started using the tens of millions of tablets, like the iPad and Kindle Fire, and e-Readers such as the revised Kindles and Barnes & Noble’s Nook line of readers, that they gobbled up at stores that very holiday season.
Despite music’s lead, if the growth rate in e-books has been holding through this year, as most surveys of the business indicate is the case, then by this point in 2012, 50% of all new books sales in the US will be digital. That’s just less than half the time it took for the same to happen to music, and ahead of what promises to be another big holiday season for tablets and e-book readers.
Thanks to the Internet, and the new classes of mobile devices, half of all books and music purchases are now done digitally.
Video, however, is the king of media by most measures – most hours per person per week spent consuming it, most revenue by a country mile if you include movies, cable and satellite TV subscriptions, broadcast, all the advertising those bring in, plus physical media. And, video has been a bit slower to see the transition, with only a smidgen of the colossal industry succumbing to the emergence of Internet delivery. Read the rest of this entry »